This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night was our final youth gathering before Christmas, so we took the opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ – and to take a hard look at the place that he has in our lives. We opened by remembering Christ’s coming through readings from Isaiah 9 and Matthew 1, and then spent time in reflection as we listened to “Amen, Amen” from Sojourn Community Church’s fantastic CD Advent Songs (currently available as a free download through NoiseTrade). After singing “O Holy Night” together, we began our time of study by considering the anticipation that often accompanies Christmas.
Remember back to your childhood. Doubtlessly, you could recall great (and often humorous) memories of the long wait for Christmas morning to arrive. My students had many great stories, from trying to rewrap presents they’d dug into in the middle of the night to hitting the stairs in such a frenzy that they fell and rolled all the way to the bottom. Why did we do so many crazy (and often stupid) things on Christmas as kids? Because our thinking was completely consumed with anticipation for what was to come. What sort of anticipation grips our hearts, however, at the thought of the birth of Christ – the coming of our savior? In Luke 2:22-38, we examined the life of a man named Simeon whose expectations were sky high – and they completely dictated the way that he lived his life.
We know very little about Simeon, save that he was old, righteous, and devout. He would have been quite familiar with the Old Testament Law – God’s expectations for how we are to live. However, we are also told that he was waiting expectantly for “the consolation of Israel.” What a strange thing to look for. Israel was, after all, the chosen people of God, the ones to whom he had revealed himself and entered into covenant relationship with. They were his favored nation. Why, then, were they in need of consolation – of comfort, of lifting up? Simeon knew the answer. As a devout man, he not only knew the Law’s commands, but he knew of his own inability to keep those commands. He, like all of Israel, stood guilty before God – a perfect God, as perfect in his justice as he is in his love. This fact was hammered into his mind and heart by a ritual system where animals were constantly sacrificed as a reminder of the people’s guilt. Yet he, like all the Jews, looked to God’s promise of a savior, of one who would redeem his people. The promise can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3, and it finds echoes throughout the prophets. Simeon waited with eager expectation for the Messiah to come. God, in his grace, had revealed to Simeon that he would live to see the birth of the Christ child. For this moment he yearned.
Following his birth, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the Law’s rituals for a firstborn child. As they entered into the temple, the Lord revealed to Simeon the nature of the child they carried. As he held the long promised savior in his arms, Simeon proclaimed that salvation had come to earth – a light to the Gentiles who had until now dwelled in darkness, and a new hope for the people of Israel. He could not but proclaim the coming of Christ, for it was the most important event in the history of the universe. He proclaimed the hope of his birth. He proclaimed the sorrow and pain that would accompany the task of redeeming people from sin. We see in the final few verses that he was not alone, an old widow named Anna spread the news of Christ’s birth to all those in Jerusalem who were eagerly anticipating it.
How should anticipation factor into our Christmas? After all, we look not forward but back, back to the birth of a child more than 2000 years ago. However, even for us today, the promise of Christmas has still yet to reach its full fulfillment. We live having experienced the promised grace of Christ, lavished upon us through his death and resurrection, but we still look forward to the consummation of all things, to the time when, as the hymn says, “in his name, all oppression shall cease.” We’ve experienced the beginning of the Christmas story, but we still eagerly await its ending. Are you waiting for it? Does the promise of Christ’s return even register as a blip on your radar, much less the dominating factor around which your life is built? Why do we celebrate Christmas? Moreover, why do we file into sanctuaries week after week to worship? I told my students last night that I have little interest in wasting their time. It boils down to this – if the Christmas story is true and Christ is who he said he is, than he is everything, and every aspect of our lives, our thoughts, our relationships, our time, our finances, our careers, our affections, should be constructed around him. He is the only hope that we have of being accepted by God, sinful as we are. If Christ is not real, if the manger and the virgin birth and the wise men are mere fairy tale, then we are wasting our time. Christianity carries as much significance as the platitudes on the candy hearts on Valentine's Day. Better to sleep in on Sundays and get an early start on the NFL pregame shows. There is no third option - he's either everything or he's nothing. So I ask you - examine your heart and mind. Do you believe in the Christ of Christmas? The Christ of the cross? The resurrected Christ? This Christmas, enjoy the abundant joy that Christmas brings – time with family, the wonder of the season, the festivities and the gifts. However, never for a moment forget why we celebrate. Never for a moment forget why we live. Christ is all. Without him there is no hope. With him is joy and purpose beyond our minds' farthest ability to comprehend. Glory in him this Christmas, and let his glory shine through you.